Many of you surely remember my friend Father Mitch Bojarski, who was the deacon of the Mass for my ordination. He is the vicar of St. Thomas’ Church in Campbellsville, Kentucky, and so this weekend must function like a patronal feast for them. Fr. Mitch sends out a weekly email like we do, but his is called Doubter’s Digest; it’s a name which he is not very happy with, for obvious reasons (it was named by way of a contest), but I think it’s a name we can all relate to at times. For some of us, our religious diary, if such a thing existed, could be called a doubter’s digest. If any of us had such a digest, we would be in good company.
The Gospel for the Sunday after Easter is always the one we just heard, the one that recounts the story of Thomas and his famous, or maybe infamous, doubting. Jesus appeared to His disciples, but Thomas was not there, so he, in a fit of almost raucous honesty, declares that unless he sees, nay, touches the wounds of this certifiably dead but supposedly risen Lord, he will not believe. Thomas is almost admirable in his stand against what he sees as collective wishful thinking; if anything, he could be seen as the most modern amongst the disciples, if modernity is at all admirable.
The problem with Thomas’ doubting was not that he didn’t trust what the other disciples told him. Thomas can and should be forgiven for chalking Mary Magdalene’s testimony in the hysterics column; his friend Judas was dead by his own hand after betraying Jesus (and the rest of the his friends, for that matter); and what was left of the original band of twelve was still locked up in a upstairs room, despite their claim of seeing Jesus back alive. No, the problem with Thomas’ doubting was not that he didn’t trust what the disciples had told him, but rather that he did not trust what Jesus had told him. Thomas might not have been present when Jesus first showed Himself back alive, but he was present the innumerable times Jesus had told them that this was the very thing that would happen. Thomas wanted a sign, he wanted proof.
We want proof too, don’t we? After the Mass on Maundy Thursday, while the candles were being lit at the Altar of Repose, Mary Ellen and I could hear music coming from a car in the parking lot. It turned out to be the soundtrack from Jesus Christ Superstar, in which Tim Rice wrote, “Jesus Christ, if you’re divine, turn my water into wine. Prove to me that you’re no fool, walk across my swimming pool.” The phrasing doesn’t have the elegance of “Except I shall see in his hands the print of the nails, and put my finger into the print of the nails, and thrust my hand into his side, I will not believe,” but the point is the same, and Tim Rice wrote those words 2000 years and innumerable witnesses later. The Jews demanded signs and the Greeks demanded wisdom, and everyone from Thomas to Tim Rice to us here would like a little proof, or maybe just a little taste of the pudding.
And that’s OK, I think; for doubt to creep in every once in a while, or even more than every once in a while, is natural, it’s part of only being able to see our God through a mirror, dimly. The fact is, doubt is not the same as unbelief; unbelief is saying either that there is no God or that what God has said and done doesn’t make a load of difference to you. Doubt is that nagging you get when you’re not sure, not sure you’re getting it right, not sure you’re hearing clearly what God is saying to you; doubt can lead to more: more prayer, more inquiry, more fellowship, and best of all, more faith, more life, in God.
Now, I’m not one to encourage doubt, but I am one to acknowledge it. We all have our doubter’s digest hiding somewhere. Thomas doubted Jesus and Jesus rebuked him for it, but that rebuke came with the outstretching of wounded hands, hands wounded and outstretched so that Thomas might acknowledge Jesus as Lord and God. We have our doubts, but those same hands that were wounded for Thomas were wounded for us; His hands are stretched out to us as well, Jesus tells us “do not be faithless, but believing.” It’s up to us, then, to turn with Thomas and say to Jesus, “My Lord and my God.”